Brexit raises concerns for many organisations due to the uncertainty. Are we entering the world of a hard Brexit? It's been reported that EU officials are quietly preparing for this outcome, so there must be a realistic chance of it happening. And then there are the obvious questions about what that will mean for businesses and individuals.
But what is rarely discussed is the impact Brexit will have on the civil service and in particular government departments. Back office processes, workflows and ultimately the services it provides to us, the end users, will all be affected by Brexit, particularly if we end with no deal, i.e. the hard Brexit. The trickiest part is that Brexit is difficult to prepare for as the outcome is still unknown, meaning there will surely be some sort of hiatus as new work flows are developed.
Let's take HMRC as an obvious department whose work is inextricably tied to Brexit. Even with a softer Brexit than anticipated, there is likely to be an increase in paperwork, as declarations in and out of Europe will need to be put in place. With anticipation of declarations increasing from the current 55 million a year to 255 million a year, this is a gigantic amount to absorb.
And don't forget in recent years the civil service have been on a recuitment freeze, budget cuts and even downsizing. Now suddenly there is a flurry of recruitment activity, and investment in technology and systems to try and prepare for the unknown future.
Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) is still in the process of being replaced within HMRC with Customs Declaration Services (CDS) a system designed to help with Brexit. However, this has put another vital 40 HMRC tech projects on hold. As someone found often spouting the wonders of back office digitalisation and automation, I really think that Brexit is the ideal opportunity to rethink and improve the essential back office systems within the civil service. When change is forced upon you, embrace it and try and improve your organisation's agility and make long-term savings and improvements.
HMRC have recruited over 1,000 extra members of staff this year, with several thousand more next year. DEFRA, another department heavily affected by Brexit, is on a massive recruitment drive with 1,300 more staff over the last twelve months. This is a massive increase for HR systems that have been relatively untested under austerity measures. We work with many organisations to improve HR records, automating and digitalising as much as possible, so HR Teams are freed to concentrate on essential training and induction processes when there is such a huge influx in new staff.
DEFRA is working hard to meet its EU Exit Programme, but it's difficult with the pervasive uncertainty surrounding Brexit. There are 64 areas of DEFRA related to Brexit (about 80% of what it does is framed by EU policy). This includes import controls on animals and animal products; authorisation of new chemical products; to farmer subsides and food production within the UK. This is a lot of work flows to change, and what they state in the Exit Programme, involves four new systems to be built if no deal takes place.
Government Departments are working hard to prepare for a future, like us, not fully sure what it will look like. So much inbound communications and forms to the government have been made digital, that it seems impossible that they will all remain digital in the immediate aftermath of leaving the EU. The civil service will need to prepare for an influx of paper and inbound communications as new workflows are put in place.
Preparing for the unknown is difficult, and impossible to do fully, but there are ways of mitigating the risks.
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